Maine to study whether drivers are using Route 1 to dodge tolls

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OGUNQUIT (AP) – The Maine Turnpike Authority will commission a study later this summer to determine if turnpike travelers are turning to Route 1 to avoid paying the $1.75 toll at the southern end of the turnpike.

The authority last October paid for a study that shows that the amount of traffic diverted onto Route 1 because of the toll is minuscule.

But some say the study wasn’t comprehensive enough and should have been done in the summer.

The follow-up component will provide hard data by tracking license plates and interviewing drivers, said authority spokesman Dan Paradee.

The toll – and its effect on drivers – is of concern in southern Maine communities along Route 1, where heavy traffic and traffic jams are routine.

In Ogunquit, Lesley Mathews blames the Maine Turnpike for some of the frequent bumper-to-bumper traffic on Route 1 through the center of this town. Mathews contends that Route 1 is not just clogged with visitors, but with cars and trucks that are cutting through town to avoid paying $1.75 at the York toll plaza.

“A lot of people are getting off,” Mathews said while walking her dog in the center of town. “Lower the damn toll.”

Northbound turnpike travelers can avoid the $1.75 toll at the York toll plaza by getting off at Exit 7 in York, just south of the toll plaza, and taking Route 1 to Exit 19 in Wells and paying only 60 cents to re-enter the turnpike there for a savings of $1.15.

Southbound vehicles can get off in Wells and get on the interstate again at Exit 7, saving the full $1.75. However, the detour takes about 30 minutes, compared with about 13 minutes on the turnpike.

HNTB Corp., a Boston-based engineering firm, conducted a study last Columbus Day weekend, one of the busiest travel times of the year, and on Wednesday, Oct. 11, a day more typical of turnpike travel volumes.

For the study, vehicles were tracked by cameras recording license plates. In the end, the study found that only five vehicles, or 0.07 percent, diverted out of 7,317 vehicles traveling south. Sixty-five vehicles, or 1.38 percent, diverted out of 4,715 vehicles headed north.

The second part of the study will be more comprehensive, with cameras recording license plates at more locations and with drivers actually being surveyed, said Roland Lavallee, vice president and director of operations for HNTB Corp. It will probably be done in August.

The study comes at a time when the turnpike authority is moving forward with a $35 million plan to move and rebuild the 38-year-old York toll plaza by 2009. Officials said the relocation issue was among factors that made the turnpike decide to look more closely at the diversion concerns.

“Our numbers have always shown that diversion has been minimal, because if you value time at all it doesn’t make sense, particularly in the summertime, to be getting off into Ogunquit and on again in Wells,” Paradee said.

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